THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a development that’s gone largely under the radar in the debate over health care reform: leaders from the religious community who are weighing in on the side of reformers.

In the latest escalation of health care battle, faith leaders supporting the health care reform announced Friday morning that they’re launching a major push that will include a TV ad campaign, nationwide prayer events and a “health care sermon weekend,” rallies and call-ins to congress.

All this, the faith leaders hope, will counteract the recent mobilization of conservative Christians against health reform, who have rallied their opposition around the issue of abortion. As Jacqui noted this morning, the conservative Christians have been on the warpath with lobbying, phone calls, e-mails, letters to Congress and plenty of prayer.

The more liberal faith-based groups are now battling back to support health care reform. Leaders said they’ll hold a press conference call on Monday at 11 a.m. with details, but promised it includes “major new initiatives,” calling it “40 Days for Health Care Reform.”

Some heavy hitters are apparently part of the campaign, including the Rev. Jim Wallis and Rabbi David Saperstein. Sponsoring the campaign are the PICO National Network, Faith in Public Life, Faithful America, Sojourners, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Depending on the size and intensity of their efforts, the push from the faithful has the potential to make a difference. Generally speaking, when religion, policy, and politics mix, the impression is that it’s with a conservative goal — banning abortion, restricting gay rights, etc. — in mind. Here’s a chance to prove otherwise.

It would also be interesting to see a clash between the right-wing mob and religious leaders committed to improved health care for all. Videos of far-right activists screaming at policymakers make the activists look pretty bad. Videos of far-right activists screaming at ministers would likely be seen as worse by much of the country.

Also from The God Machine this week:

* Several dozen politically conservative churches deliberately violated federal tax law the Sunday before the 2008 presidential election, formally endorsing John McCain’s presidential campaign. The goal, the churches said, was to be punished by the Internal Revenue Service, which would in turn offer the churches a chance to sue and challenge the constitutionality of restricting the political conduct of tax-exempt institutions. Much to the churches’ disappointment, the IRS has decided not to pursue investigations against the ministries.

* Say goodbye to Dinosaur Adventure Land: “A federal judge has cleared the way for the government’s seizure of a creationism theme park in Pensacola owned by a couple convicted of tax fraud…. Kent Hovind, who founded the park and a ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, is serving 10 years in federal prison for failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $470,000 in employee taxes.” (thanks to L.M. for the tip)

* Gallup had an interesting report this week on religious identity by state: “The states of the union differ remarkably from one another in terms of their residents’ religions. Non-Catholic Christians — the largest religious group in the country today — are heavily concentrated in the South and nearby states, while constituting only a minority of residents of Northeastern states, and of many Middle Atlantic and Western states.”

* And in Iowa, the Iowa Atheists & Freethinkers group took out some bus ads in Des Moines that read, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone.” The ads were not well received. (thanks to B.D. for the heads-up)

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.